How Do Plato, Locke & Machiavelli Address The Concepts Of Power, Authority & Legitimacy

Essay by lee_adamsUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, March 2007

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Authority, legitimacy and power are among the key elements of any political system. Therefore, they have been topics of much debate across the ages with various schools of thought contributing to political science thus shaping the discipline into the structure we know today.

The first of the three elements, authority, can be defined as “the right to issue a command” (Stirk and Weigall, 1995:39). However, the command that is issued must be issued with some sense of justice in order to ensure its legitimacy. The sense of justice however, can be open to conflicting understandings and we thus need to address justice as a concept. According to Plato, when one asks the question, what is justice? One is synonymously asking, what is the best form of a state? (Stirk and Weigall, 1995:2). Plato believed that the best form of the state is one in which each individual strives to be the best version of themselves and aspires to the state of goodness.

This goodness would thus fulfil the properties of how we ought to live and behave. Once this moral regeneration has occurred, an individual in a position of authority, issuing a command, does so rightfully. (Stirk and Weigall, 1995:39)In contrast to Plato’s ideology that men can intrinsically aspire to goodness, Thomas Hobbes postulated that all men would not strive for the state (albeit idealistic) of goodness without being commanded to do so. The guardian of this command should be an individual selected from the masses by the masses elevated to a position of complete authority (Stirk and Weigall, 1995:10). The justice in the commands issued by Hobbes’ patriarch lay in the prescription by the patriarch of “the meaning of right and wrong, good and bad, mine and yours.” (Stirk and Weigall, 1995:10)This state of affairs then leads one to...